A HARD time has befallen the Sunderbans as it continues to face a rapid pace of environmental degradation because of government negligence towards its biodiversity. The International Union for Conservation of Nature, the official adviser on natural world heritage to UNESCO, has recommended the inclusion of the Sunderbans in the UNESCO ‘world heritage in danger’ list. The recommendation was made because of ongoing construction works of the coal-based power plants and more than a hundred industrial projects being carried out near the mangrove forest. UNESCO, on June 7, published the IUCN’s recommendations on its web site for degrading the status of the Sunderbans and two other sites from the ‘world heritage’ to the ‘world heritage in danger’ list. The Bangladesh National Commission for UNESCO and government officials concerned said that they were not aware of the move while green campaigners said that the move was initiated consequent on the government’s stubbornness about ‘development projects’ at the cost of environment and the integrity of one of the unique natural forests of the world.
After a joint IUCN-UNESCO mission in 2016, the IUCN advised the UNESCO world heritage committee to call for the cancellation and relocation of the Rampal power plant which is being constructed within 14 kilometres of the ecologically critical area of the Sunderbans. Despite this, the project’s construction continued without any assessment of its impact on the forest. Two additional coal-fired power plants are also being constructed on the River Payra, which flows through the Sundarbans. The committee rightly said that more than 150 industrial projects were active upstream the site and their associated shipping and dredging activities further threatened the hydrological and ecological dynamics of the region. The UNESCO committee, therefore, requested Bangladesh to ensure that no large-scale industrial and/or infrastructure developments is allowed to proceed before the assessment is completed and to submit a copy of the assessment to the world heritage centre for an IUCN review. The committee welcomed the government’s pledge to frame a draft national oil spill and chemical contingency plan and requested Bangladesh to put in place a management system for shipping to minimise negative impact on the forest. The government did not keep any of its pledges even though the National Committee to Save the Sunderbans repeatedly pushed for it. The government’s promise for the Sunderbans conservation seems to be limited to rhetoric. Experts say that lack of political will and non-enforcement of relevant rules harm its biodiversity.
The government now must act in compliance with the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, which stipulates that the biological and ecological diversity of plants, animals and microbes are important for maintaining life-sustaining systems to avert this situation inflicted by UNESCO and in the greater interest of the nation.
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